When White People Are Uncomfortable, Black People Are Silenced Social media makes it easy for those who don’t want to hear the truth.
By Rachel Elizabeth Cargle
Jan 9 2019, 1:22 pm EST
Illustration by Erin Lux Advertisement – Continue Reading Below In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer was fired from her job after she campaigned to encourage African Americans to vote. Two years later, when Hamer testified at the DNC in support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party—specifically its efforts to further black voter registration—President Lyndon B Johnson called an impromptu news conference to make it impossible for national television networks to cover her testimony live. This type of silencing, used generation after generation against marginalized voices, is nothing new. For decades, it has ensured America never had to face a hard truth: that its foundations, its very roots, are racist. And today, threats like doxing, reporting of work, and white gatekeeping are common tactics used to silence those who speak that truth. “Silencing happens when, for white people, hearing the truth is too much.” It happened to the black men who took a knee at their NFL games to protest the killing of black bodies at the hands of the police force. It happens to Black Lives Matter activists who are censored by social media algorithms that protect white men. It happens to women of color representatives in our own government. Last year during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Jeff Sessions, Senator Kamala Harris was the only senator to be reprimanded by her male colleagues for asking pertinent questions—like whether Sessions had any communication with Russians. Silencing happens when, for white people, hearing the truth is too much; when the truth hangs so painfully heavy on their shoulders that they’d rather get rid of the weight, than actually face the issue head on. But why would something as virtuous as truth be a burden for some? Because when the truth is held up, it reflects the false securities that our society rests on: the elitism, the capitalism, the racism, the ableism, the sexism, the homo/transphobia, the xenophobia, the anti-blackness. And the people who benefit from those systems have a hard time letting go of their privilege within those realms. To escape these truths, silencing has very often been the answer. Advertisement – Continue Reading Below For more political op-eds like this, sign up for the Harper’s BAZAAR Newsletter. SUBSCRIBE In my own work, I’ve seen it show up again and again when I put out the type of content that agitates—the type of content that is meant make people think deeply about the roles they may play in the problematic dynamic of this country. And when I show up in these ways, silencing is something I’ve come to expect. I’ve had my university contacted to “report” me by those seeking to sabotage my academic career. I’ve been accused of lying about how white supremacy has shown up in my life as a way to discredit my work. I’ve had social media posts dedicated to the mental health of black communities reported, and then taken down. Time and time again my voice has been muffled by those who would rather not be bothered by the conversations around racism—both its gnarled roots, and its modern manifestations. Those in power—or often, simply those with money—do whatever it takes to maintain the power that keeps them comfortable at the expense of marginalizing so many. As exhausting as this work is, there are many of us—black women I’m speaking of here—who won’t stop this work. We won’t simply fold to the silencing and the threats, because there is too much on the line for us. “When the truth is held up, it reflects the false securities our society rests on.” Poet Audre Lorde reminds me of this with her quote: “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” When people try to silence me, I can’t help but think of how dogs pulled at the skin of my ancestors as they raced to their freedom; how babies were pulled from the arms of mothers who knew they’d never lay eyes on them again; how water hoses painfully blasted at the chests of women and men demanding justice in the streets; how little brown girls defied laws of segregation walking through angry mobs who considered them unworthy. Advertisement – Continue Reading Below More from Rachel Cargle How to Talk About Racism at the Dinner Table When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels How Racism and Patriarchy Is Taught at School The efforts to silence my own work will never not be terrifying. But when have black bodies, black livelihoods, black existences ever been safe in pursuit of truth and justice in this country? Author Alice Walker says, “We will be ourselves and free, or die in the attempt. Harriet Tubman was not our great-grandmother for nothing.” There is still so much more work to do. I am committed to continue doing what I can, with what I have, from where I’m at. We can’t back down. We can’t be silent. We must all stand, committed to #DoTheWork. In the words of fellow writer and black feminist Layla Saad: “I am tired of being censored. I am tired of being attacked. I’m tired of not feeling safe. I’m tired of not knowing who to trust. I’m tired of defending my humanity. I’m tired of debating the truth of my lived experiences. I’m tired of not being able to speak my mind without fear of retribution. I’m tired of injustice and discrimination. I’m tired of having to be twice as good and two steps ahead just to fxcking live. I’m tired of having my words wiped clean from existence without reason or justification. I’m tired of the emotional labour of being in this melanated body in these white-centred spaces. I’m tired of having to be the strong one, the resilient one, the one who acts better than she’s being treated. I’m tired of screaming that I’m being hurt and being punished for it, while my abusers are protected and enabled.